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By BERNIE BELLAN In the summer of 1974 Americans – and the rest of the world as well, were caught up in what was to become the most enthralling political scandal in that country’s history to that date: Watergate.
Young Marty Morantz was then a 12-year-old camper at Camp Massad. While the rest of his cohorts were busy enjoying themselves doing what young campers typically do when they’re at camp, Morantz says he was obsessed with following the Watergate scandal, culminating in President Nixon’s resignation in August of that summer.

 


That story was told by Morantz at a gathering of the Remis Lecture Forum at the Shaarey Zedek on Thursday, September 6. Now about to finish his term as city councilor for Tuxedo-Charleswood, Morantz announced in May that he would be entering into a different jurisdiction in his next foray into politics: He is seeking the Conservative nomination for the Federal riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley. (Why couldn’t they have just it called Winnipeg West, I wonder? Is it just because it includes Headingley? They why not Winnipeg West-Headingley?)
Marty Morantz comes from a well-established Winnipeg family. His father, Saul Morantz, had helped build Globe General Agencies into one of the leading real estate and commercial management companies in Western Canada.
Marty himself graduated from Osgoode Hall with a law degree and practiced law with the firm of Levene Tadman Golub for 23 years.
But, having caught the political bug in 1973, when he said he volunteered on then-Manitoba Progressive Conservative leader Sidney Spivak’s campaign in that year’s provincial election, he has maintained an active interest in politics ever since, although he never actually stepped forward as a candidate for any office until 2011.

 

Marty Morantz being thanked by Allan Cantor, organizer of the Remis Speakers Forum

That year, Morantz told the audience, he was persuaded to seek the Conservative nomination for the provincial riding of River Heights, which was held by then-Liberal leader Jon Gerrard. Morantz finished second in that race, garnering a respectable 33% of the vote in a riding that has been held by Gerrard since 1999.
Morantz said he wasn’t really thinking of entering politics again until, in 2014, the then-city councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo, Paula Havixbeck, announced that, rather than seek re-election to council, she was going to run for mayor instead.
Morantz decided to enter civic politics and he won that 2014 election to city council by 400 votes.
The day that Morantz was supposed to be sworn in as a city councilor, however, was bittersweet, as he explained to the Shaarey Zedek crowd. His father, Saul, had just passed away in Los Angeles, where he had moved, and Marty was on his way to the funeral.
While riding in a car to the funeral, however, Morantz said he received a phone call from newly-elected Mayor Brian Bowman, who asked Morantz whether he would consider becoming chair of the very important finance committee.
Deciding to accept the position, Morantz said that “as I was saying good bye to my father, I was starting a new adventure.”


Not sure what to expect in his new role, Morantz explained that “right after I was sworn in I met with Mike Ruta” (who was then the CFO of the city).
“We were supposed to meet for one hour, but we ended up meeting for four hours,” Morantz observed. “I was quite astounded at what I learned.”
As it turned out, the incoming city council was facing an $80 million operating deficit in the city’s budget. (By law, the City of Winnipeg is not allowed to run an operating deficit.)
“We had to find $80 million in savings in only three months,” Morantz noted.
As he began poring through the budget line by line, Morantz was soon made aware how enormous the task would be to shave $80 million from the budget. He told one interesting story to illustrate just how difficult it is to find “efficiencies” within the civic bureaucracy.
“The city had park police. That was costing close to $1 million,” Morantz explained.
“I thought we could turn over patrolling the parks to the Winnipeg Police Service” without any reduction in efficiency, he suggested.
But the park police - like all civic employees, had a no-layoff clause, meaning that you couldn’t terminate someone’s employment unless there was another job at comparable pay available somewhere else within the city’s workforce.
Still, Morantz didn’t think it would be all that difficult to deal with that particular requirement until a year later, when he happened to be in Kildonan Park and he noticed a park police vehicle on the road.
“I thought there would be no park police. I was told that we haven’t been able to reassign each employee yet,” he said. Welcome to the world of government bureaucracy, Councillor Morantz.


As the inexperienced head of the finance committee, Morantz said he received another lesson in how things are done at City Hall that came as a major surprise.
“The Winnipeg Police Service receives approximately 30% of the entire civic budget,” Morantz explained.
At a meeting of the finance committee, Morantz wanted to ask the Deputy Chief of Police some questions about the police budget. The Deputy Chief refused to answer those questions.
“He said that those questions have to be put to him by the Police Board,” Morantz said. Some reporters who were in the room later poked fun at Morantz’s ignorance of procedure (although this story is a classic illustration of why it is so difficult to get things done at the civic level more than it is of one councillor’s naiveté.)
Three years after that first encounter with being forced to adhere to bureaucratic norms, Morantz noted that the city has been able to rein in increases in the police budget to the rate of inflation - no mean accomplishment when you consider that in the last years of the scandal-plagued Katz administration, the police had been receiving annual increases in their budget over 8% per year.
(Interestingly, Morantz said that he was fully supportive of the vote at City Council which asked the Province to hold an inquiry into the scandal surrounding the move of the Public Safety Building to the former Canada Post tower on Graham. Ultimately, the Province refused to call that inquiry.)


Morantz cited some impressive figures to show just how effective the Bowman administration has been in bringing runaway spending at City Hall under control:
The city was able to limit the increase in its budget for 2018 to just 1.28% - the third year in a row budget increases have been held to no more than the rate of inflation.
Even working within that constraint, the city has been able to spend $429 million on road repairs in the past four years, Morantz noted, including this year. 2015 – the first year of the new administration, was the first time the city had ever spent more than $100 million on road repairs. 423 kilometres of roads have been repaired in the past four years – the equivalent of repairing the entire Trans Canada Highway between Winnipeg and Regina, he observed.

Among the other accomplishments of which he’s most proud, Morantz cited his vote in support of building the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre in Assiniboia; his vote in favour of ride sharing (even though Uber and Lyfft are still not here, TappCar is and is apparently doing quite well); his traveling to New York City in 2016 with Mayor Bowman to speak to investors about Winnipeg’s financial situation; and his vote in favour of ending severance payouts to city councillors when they retire or are defeated. (On that last point, even thought the vote in favour was defeated, Morantz said that both he and Bowman have pledged not to take severance payouts.)
As for why he’s now seeking the Conservative nomination in the riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, Morantz said that back in February he was approached by Scott Gillingham, who himself is a  city councilor, and who asked Morantz to seek the nomination. (The nomination meeting has not been absolutely confirmed as of press time, but Morantz told me he’s fairly certain that it will be held October 14. At the present time there is only one other candidate for the nomination.)

In the question and answer session that followed his remarks, Morantz was asked about the controversial extension of the Sterling Lyon Parkway in Charleswood. The questioner wanted to know whether city “staff does everything without telling councillors?” (Readers may recall the controversy that arose when residents of Charleswood were initially told there were three possible extension routes under consideration, but then were told that a fourth – and previously undisclosed route, had been chosen.)
At the time Morantz who, by that time had been made chair of the infrastructure committee of city council, claimed that he had not been made aware of the new route by city planners. As well, Winnipeg CFO Doug McNeil also claimed that he had not been made aware of the new route. (Interestingly, I recall talking to Garth Steek at the time, with Steek telling me there is no way Morantz and McNeil would have been unaware of the new route. Steek in now a candidate for City Council in River Heights.)
In response to the question though, Morantz had this to say about the Charleswood extension: “That was one of the most difficult situations I’ve faced since I was elected…There is a cultural divide between city councillors and the public service – a push and pull relationship. They don’t always give us the information we need.”


Nonetheless, Morantz said that he has always strived to remain on good terms with city employees. “My philosophy has always been be kind and generous with the people you’re working with. I would never throw someone under the bus,” he stated.
As a result, “if I need a pothole fixed I can call the manager of public works and get him to send a crew out” to get that pothole fixed, he claimed.
Someone else asked Morantz about the $600,000 the city spent on street parties during the Winnipeg Jets’ playoff run.
Morantz said that he himself wondered where the money was going to come from. But, he said, he was told, “We can find the money.”
“That’s something that’s always bothered me,” he added: that city bureaucrats always seem able to “find the money”.

Finally, I asked Morantz whether he needs any help in pursuing the Federal nomination he is seeking. I noted that he has well-known Israeli-Russian realtor Boris Mednikov supporting him and I wondered whether he is counting on the sizeable Russian-Israeli community now living in the Charleswood area to help him secure the nomination.
Morantz answered that over “the last four months I’ve been talking to different groups, including Indo-Canadians and the Russian-Israeli group. The riding is traditionally Conservative.” Stephen Fletcher held it for 11 years, Morantz noted, before losing in the 2015 election to Liberal Doug Eyolfson. He said that rather than going door-to-door, which is what individuals seeking a nomination have traditionally done, asking people to join the Conservative Party to support him, he’s been concentrating on reaching out to the existing solid base of Conservative Party members whose names are already on the party database.

As a final note to this article, I want to make it clear that I am not a member of any political party. There just aren’t that many Jewish politicians in Manitoba, so when someone does put their name forward, it’s newsworthy – regardless of their political affiliation.